Poinsettia Plant History, Care and Information

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Becoming a Christmas Tradition:

  • Also referred to as Christmas Stars, the Poinsettia originated in Mexico before it became popular in American Christmas traditions. Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico and amateur botanist, brought several Poinsettias back to the United States in 1928. He gave some of the plants as gifts to friends and family, and years later, the plant that bears his name is still a popular gift to give and receive during Christmas.
  • In 2002 the US House of Representatives declared December 12th National Poinsettia Day. The declaration was made in honor of Paul Ecke Jr. who is credited with revolutionizing the way poinsettias are bred, produced, and sold. The US House of Representatives also noted that National Poinsettia Day has traditionally been observed on December 12th for over 150 years to honor the death of Dr. Joel Poinsett.
  • According to the US Department of Agriculture, in 2012 nearly 34 million Poinsettia Plants were sold.

The Legend:

  • According to Mexican legend, a child knelt before the altar at her village's church on Christmas Eve. Since she had no money, she had no gift to offer to the Christ Child on his birthday. Her prayers were sincere though, and through a miracle the first "Flower of the Holy Night" bloomed at her feet in bright red and green homage to the holy birth. This was the birth of the Poinsettia.
  • Poinesttias existed even before Christianity came to Mexico. The Aztec name for poinsettias was Cuetlaxochitl. They used the sap of the poinseetia to control fevers and they used the bracts to make a reddish dye.

Is the Poinsettia Poisonous?:

  • Many people believe that Poinsettia's are poisonous to children and pets. However, this is not correct. In the 1970s, Ohio State University conducted a study which showed that a 50-pound child could eat 500 of the bitter tasting bracts and only suffer a mild upset stomach. The Aztecs even used the milky sap of the poinsettia as medicine to counteract fevers. Find out more in our article about poinsettia toxicity.

Poinsettia Care and Reblooming:

  • Light: Medium light areas are best for Poinsettias, but they will tolerate low light. Avoid full sun to prevent burned leaves.
  • Water: Water when the soil surface becomes dry.
  • Temperature: Keep at temperatures between 60 and 70F.
  • NOTE: Poinsettia Plants bloom when they enter the reproductive state which starts after the first day of autumn when the nights last 12 hours or more. The reproductive state can be interrupted by even small light sources that shine on it when it is supposed to be night. If the reproductive state is interrupted the plant will not bloom. More detailed information is available in our article about how to rebloom poinsettias

Poinsettia Tip Sheet:

**Information in this article was obtained from Ohio State University Extension, The University of Illinois Extension, The US Congress, and The US Department of Agriculture.
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